User Friendly

Brenda Harrison Bell

"Articles in professional journals back up claims by computerphilic practioners that many people are more frank when communicating with a computer. You could admit murder and mayhem and a computer wouldn't raise an eyebrow--if it had one." Psychology Today

When Waldo decided to get even with Bertram,
he credit-carded the lock on the Computer Assisted
Psychotherapy Lab--Official Personnel Only door
and re-programmed Bertram's machine.
After he was finished, any mention of routine
and simple sexual practices--like missionary positions,
nocturnal emissions, or unwanted erections in crowded public conveyances
any mention would draw from the computer a delay
just slightly longer than normal, then words
that somehow managed to look prim on the screen:
"Well, I suppose we do have to talk about sex, don't we?"
Let there be the slightest deviation from the norm,
the barest hint of--say--uprightness or tables or beaches,
and then the machine would shudder delicately and click,
"I'm sorry, but to be perfectly frank, that kind of thing turns my stomach."

Bertram's favorite sexual fantasy, harmless and charmingly unimaginative,
with which he managed to survive the tedium of his life--
that confession, should he ever make it, would be met
by pulsing screen and these words flashed on every unit in the lab:
"That's the most disgusting thing I've ever heard;
please leave the room or I'll have to call the police!"

Fortunately, the medical school at the university
boasted a first-rate psychiatric unit. Every month the admissions clerk
steals the box of peanut brittle which Waldo sends to Bertram.

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The 2River View, 1_2 (Winter 1997)